Ryan Smith moved to within touching distance of retaining his British Truck Racing Championship crown after claiming a race victory and a further two podium finishes at Snetterton last weekend [9-10 September].
The MAN driver, who stands a mathematical chance of wrapping up his second crown at Pembrey in October, secured pole position on Saturday morning by seven tenths of a second over 10-time champion Stuart Oliver.
He then defended well to the inside of Riches on the opening lap of the first race as Shane Brereton made an incisive move on Oliver’s Volvo VN to take second. Dave Jenkins would then claim the final podium slot on the Bentley Straight as Smith racked up a ninth victory of the 2017 season.
The second contest provided arguably the story of the weekend as Ricky Collett scored his first visit to the top step of the podium since Thruxton in 2015. Simon Reid had been the initial pace-setter with a superb move to the outside of Riches to lead on the first lap - from sixth on the grid - but a front crankshaft oil seal blew on the IVECO, forcing him to retire at Palmer.
Collett assumed and successfully defended the lead to win in the MAN, whilst an action-packed dice for the remaining podium slots fell in favour of Brereton and Smith, who edged out Oliver in a near dead-heat at the chequered flag.
The initial attempt at starting the third race was red-flagged after Terry Gibbon span at Oggies, leaving Brereton nowhere to go but over the rear of the PE-backed MAN, collecting Collett and Jenkins in the process.
On the restart, championship rivals Oliver and Mat Summerfield diced for the lead, which the latter secured with a pass into Murrays. Oly Janes’ Buggyra Freightliner joined the chasing pack, but ultimately proved powerless to topple Summerfield as he romped home with an advantage spanning some 20 seconds.
Janes fought valiantly but his defence was undone on the final tour of the 2.99 mile circuit by both Oliver and Smith, who inherited second and third respectively.
Poor weather conditions and delays due to barrier repairs from earlier races meant the final Division 1 race was unfortunately cancelled.
Whilst the trio of races in Norfolk have cemented Smith’s advantage atop the standings, the resulting battle for second between Oliver, Summerfield, Brereton and Jenkins heading into the final eight races of the season could scarcely be closer.
Michael Oliver continued his strong recent form after securing his maiden podium finishes at Donington Park last month, claiming a brace of top ten finishes including a strong sixth in the final contest.
Oly Janes was another to impress in front of the packed spectator banks, taking three top eight finishes as he underlined the potential of the Buggyra package.
Luke Taylor and Gibbon were both the unfortunate victims of accident damage but both struggled to a brace of points scoring finishes each and will look to continue their personal battle in the standings at Pembrey.
And whilst a maiden race victory for Collett was to be the highlight of an otherwise frustrating weekend, the striking yellow MAN is now a proven race winner and will certainly pose a threat as it continues its development in the final two meetings of the season.
If Mika Makinen’s supremacy atop the class standings had ever look doubtful amid mechanical faults at Pembrey and Thruxton, his results since have certainly made for ominous reading.
The former ETRC ace claimed another hat-trick of victories at Snetterton in the Sisu SL250 as his closest championship rivals endured a weekend to forget.
Makinen was pushed hard in the opening contest by Simon Cole’s Mercedes and the other Sisu of Tony Smith, but a pair of non-finishes for the duo have given Makinen every chance of securing his first class title in South Wales.
Reigning class champion Adam Bint endured a nightmare weekend in his Volvo, claiming fourth in the first race before accident damage forced him to retire from the second, and prevented him starting the rest of the weekend’s contests.
Steven Powell underlined his recent form with another three top eight finishes behind the wheel of his ERF.
Sami Ojanen enjoyed a breakthrough weekend of sorts, piloting the IVECO Stralis to a brace of podium finishes and a further seventh place finish as the Finn reaps the benefits of a progressive debut season in the category.
Renault UK Clio Cup regular Paul Rivett proved his class on his first weekend in the BTRC with a maiden podium finish in the WDE MAN along with another pair of top-six finishes.
Luke Garrett became the only man to challenge Makinen’s perfect record at the front of the field, taking victory in the second race in calm, collected fashion.
With Makinen’s championship ambitions all but assured heading to Pembrey, the focus now sits on the battle for second, with Cole and Tony Smith likely to produce superb on-track action in their pursuit of the runner-up spot.
The season may be drawing to a close, but the on-circuit action is set to entertain as the British Truck Racing Championship heads next to Pembrey for it’s penultimate meeting of the 2017 season on October 14-15th.